TEMPTATIONS

 

TEMPTATION

Jesus faced some powerful temptations. We face the same kinds of tests. The way that he overcame them can help us to trust him to overcome them in our lives also.

 

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Matthew #7 . 4:1-11

Last time we saw how, at the baptism of Jesus, the Father and the Spirit showed how pleased they were with him. The next thing Matthew records is that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Mark records that this happened immediately after:

Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. (Mark 1:12, HCSB)

There is an important point here. It isn’t the main message of the text, but I think it is very significant for many of us. The Father was pleased with Jesus. The Spirit was with him, leading him. And he was brought into a desert wasteland where he had no food and had to fight with devil.

You don’t have to go very far in America to hear a Christian says something like this: “If you just follow God, he’ll take care of you. Your life will go better.” The Father was pleased with Jesus. The Spirit was leading him. However, his life did not get better, but harder. Following God is not a guarantee that everything will go well for you. That’s hard, but it’s the truth. When we follow God, his goal is to lead us to the place where we understand that this life on earth is not the main focus.

There is something else that many people may need to hear today: Our circumstances do not necessarily reflect how God feels about us. Jesus had nothing to eat. He was assailed by the devil, and living in a desert wasteland. And the Father was so pleased with him; the Spirit was with him. The Father has his reasons for allowing Jesus to go through that. But his reasons had nothing to do with his delight in Jesus.

Sometimes, when I’m going through tough times, I think maybe God is mad at me, or perhaps I’ve done something that has caused him to teach me a lesson. Another thought I have sometimes is that I’m going through hard times because I’ve made the wrong choice, and not listened to the Holy Spirit. But that could not have been the case with Jesus. The Father was pleased with him. The Spirit was leading him.

I think this passage calls us to dare to look at our circumstances differently. In Jesus, the Father is pleased with us, too. What we are going through is not necessarily a sign of how God feels about us. It’s true that, unlike Jesus, we sin. Sometimes we go astray and hard circumstances are a result of our bad choices. But Jesus shows us that you can follow the Spirit and still end up in wasteland with no food and the devil attacking you constantly. Just because you are in a hard time does not mean that God is displeased with you. Trust his love and grace to you!

Now, let’s take a look at some of the specific temptations faced by Jesus at this point. By the way, Matthew does not claim that these were the only ways Jesus was tempted by the devil. These are just a few of the many. But they were very powerful and difficult. You could classify these three incidents as temptation to doubt God’s provision, his protection and his purpose. But I think it’s worth looking at all three more closely.

Jesus was fasting. In some ways, fasting is all about dependence upon God. It’s almost like saying, “I need you more even, than I need food!” In my experience, when done right, fasting leads me to a greater sense of dependence upon God, regardless of what needs I may perceive in my life.

4:2 says that Jesus was hungry. Satan came along and said, “Why don’t you just create some food for yourself? You are God in human flesh, after all.” Pay attention, now. Being hungry isn’t a sin. It was natural for Jesus to be hungry. He was hungry because He himself had created the human body to need food. So, the temptation here is not about eating – it is about control. Satan was saying, “You’re hungry. You can satisfy your own hunger. Just reach out and do it – meet your own needs.”

Jesus, in taking on human nature, committed himself to live in complete dependence upon the Father, even as we humans are called to live in dependence upon him. To live as a human, to fulfill his mission, he had to trust in the Father to take care of him. In reply to the devil, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3. The whole verse says this:

He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deut 8:3, HCSB)

In that verse, Moses was reminding the people of Israel how God dealt with them in their desert wanderings. The point is, the hunger came about as a result of God’s work, and the hunger was ultimately satisfied by God. Jesus was saying: I will not meet my own needs. I will allow the Father to put me in a place of need, and I will allow Him to meet those needs in His way, and His time.

We experience similar situations, even when we aren’t fasting. Maybe it is in regard to physical needs, like hunger, or physical intimacy. Or maybe we are “hungry” for emotional needs. God wants us to depend on him to satisfy our needs in his way and in his time. Satan wants us to insist upon our needs getting met in our way and in our time. The temptation is to take control of the situation rather than trusting God. Jesus chose to trust God even while his need to eat was not being met. He calls us to that same kind of faith. Can we trust God to meet our need for love, even when we feel unloved? Can we trust him to take care of us, even while we can’t pay the bills?

We can’t manufacture that kind of faith. But Jesus has that sort of trust in the Father, and he put it into action as a human. And if he we trust Jesus, his strength, faith and integrity are available to us. Through faith, we can let Jesus, living inside us, overcome those temptations and bring us to a place of trust in the Father.

The next temptation recorded may not seem like much of a temptation to most of us. The devil suggests that Jesus should throw himself off the highest place in Jerusalem. From there, he would certainly die, unless God saved him. I think there are several temptations here. One is an inducement to suicide. Jesus faced some incredible hardships within a few years. It would be easy to simply retreat from life, and go back to heaven through death.

Without contradicting that, there are other things going here also. I think the devil was trying to cast doubt on Jesus’ sense of identity as the Son of God. He says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down…” In other words: “You think you are God’s beloved Son? Prove it.” Again, the devil is inviting Jesus to doubt God, to doubt what had been said at Jesus’ baptism. As an evil twist, he is also casting doubt about whether the Father really would rescue Jesus, really protect him.

As a final, diabolical element, Satan quotes scripture, twisting its meaning and purpose, to try and convince Jesus to do it. I think that is a very important point. In this world of sin, anyone’s words can be twisted and misused, even God’s. Psalm 91 (quoted here by Satan) is an assurance of God’s care for his people. It is not an invitation to commit suicide and see if God will stop you. It’s not an invitation to force God to prove something.

But I think we all have the temptation sometimes to want God to prove himself to us. Sometimes we all doubt whether God will really keep his promises, and we think it would be nice if we could make him show us. We also feel the temptation to doubt who we are in Jesus. The bible says that in Jesus, we have forgiveness and redemption; we are holy and blameless; we have every spiritual blessing; we are more than conquerors; we have rest for our souls; we are the righteousness of God; we are a new creation, we have real life, everlasting life; we have peace; we have grace; we stand in God’s favor…and much, much more. It all seems too good to be true. That can’t really be us. The devil will tempt you to believe that it IS too good to be true. He’ll make you doubt your true identity in Christ. When he does, ignore him, and trust Jesus in you to send him packing.

In verses 8-10 the devil makes Jesus an offer: “Worship me, and you can have the world.” I think we read this and sometimes think, “That’s silly! Jesus is Lord, why would he worship the devil?” Remember, however, when Jesus lived on earth, he made himself completely dependent upon the Father, just as we are completely dependent upon him. The Father had a mission for him, and it involved a lot of hard work and pain and suffering. What the devil offered Jesus was a shortcut. Jesus came to save the world. The devil says, “I’ll give you the world without all that suffering. Just call me ‘Lord.’”

Remember, the previous two temptations questioned Jesus’ very identity. Now, the devil is trying to assume he has succeeded, and Jesus is willing to doubt himself enough to do that. Along with that, he is offering the inducement of an easy way out. He’s saying, “You can accomplish your mission without all that hardship and pain and suffering. I’ll just hand it all over to you. The Father is trying to make you jump through hoops – I won’t do that. Just worship me, and I’ll take care of everything else.”

Since the time of Jesus, there have been many stories about people “selling their soul to the devil” in exchange for some wonderful thing. But the truth is, the temptation is not usually so blatant as that. I think it is more like these examples:

You really just need to relax and “check out” of all the stress for a while. You want some peace. There’s pill you can take, or a joint you can smoke that will take care of it all, or you could drink enough alcohol to “take the edge off.” Smoking, pot, taking the pill, or having a few drinks is easy. It’s deals with the pain or the stress quickly. But it doesn’t really deal with it – not permanently. And in exchange, you give up control and end up needing the pot or the pill, or the booze. You trade more and more of your life away in order to keep those things in your life. You think it’s a momentary out, a harmless short-cut. But you are trading your life to the devil in exchange for it.

Let me say something briefly about marijuana. Everyone I’ve spoken with who smokes it tells me that it is not addictive. I think it’s true that physically, there are no withdrawal symptoms if you quit. But the same people who say it isn’t addictive keep smoking it, even when it costs them their jobs or their relationships and even sometimes their freedom. If you are willing to give up friendships and livelihood for it, you are addicted, no ifs, ands or buts.

Here’s another soul-trade. You want security in your life. You want to make sure that you will never be in a place of need. So you work long hours. You give your life to your career, and exchange you get a savings or investment account. But it turns out, no amount is enough to make you feel secure. You work harder, and trade more time with your family, more time with God – more and more of your life – for this security. It’s a deal with the devil. It costs too much.

People do the same thing with status and fame and power. Maybe a little bit of “tough business practice” which is really just cheating, will allow you to get where you want to be. Maybe just a little more time away from the family.

Sometimes people even think they can accomplish God’s mission but do it the easy way. Just go to church, throw some money in the offering plate, and then you can ignore God the rest of the week. It’s easy.

Now, I don’t mean to say that it’s never easy to do what God wants of you. Sometimes it is extremely grace-filled and easy. But we need to pay attention to the deals we make to get what we want.

Real peace comes from trusting Jesus in the middle of hard times. Real security comes from trusting Jesus in hard times. Sometimes God just gives peace, or sometimes he just gives us sense of security. But those things come as we trust him, not from taking short-cuts.

When we look to anything but God for peace, security or comfort, we are in danger of looking to that thing as an idol. I don’t mean that we can only have peace or comfort through severe meditation and scripture study. The Lord may touch you through music, or a friendship, or a good book or movie, or a meal enjoyed (without gluttony). The Lord blesses us through all sorts of things. But we need to look beyond the things themselves to the Lord who gives them. And certain things and activities are just deals with the devil.

Jesus overcame this the third temptation the way he did the other two – he relied upon the scripture, throwing the truth at the temptation. This is one reason why it is important for us to know the bible for ourselves. It is vital ammunition in the spiritual battles we face.

One final thought from this passage. The temptation, the fasting and the desert wasteland were a season for Jesus. It came to end. The trials do not last forever. When it was over, angels came and ministered to Jesus – in other words there was relief from the difficulties that Jesus had faced. Some of us need to hear this – that our hard time does have an ending. We can’t predict when that will be, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it isn’t just an oncoming train.

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you right now.

THE BLOODLESS BATTLE

DavidSparesSaul

IT USUALLY TAKES MORE COURAGE TO REFRAIN FROM ANGER AND RETRIBUTION, THAN TO ACT ON IT

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1 Samuel #25. 1 Samuel Chapter 26:1-25

Often when I teach through the Bible, I am looking for tightly focused themes and messages in each passage. That works pretty well in the teaching portions of scripture. But often, when we get to narrative history, I feel like each passage is a box of chocolates: a lot of variety, a few surprises, but all of it is sweet.

I want to point out again David’s precarious situation. He trying to lead and support 600 men who can’t stay in one place. In fact, they can’t stay in any civilized place, because the king has declared him an outlaw, under the death sentence. He is dependent upon gifts from friends and strangers. He is also vulnerable to these same people, if they choose to betray them. We don’t know for sure how long David lived this way, but it was certainly years – maybe even as long as a decade.

One of the reasons I like to point this out is because many churches and popular preachers seem to suggest that if you have faith in God, everything will always go well for you. By implication, if things do not go well with you, it must because you don’t have enough faith, or you are not righteous enough. David was an imperfect human being, but he did live in faith. In fact he had a great deal of trust in the Lord, and always repented from his sins, and was willing to humbly learn to do better.

Even so, for many years, it did NOT go well with David. I just want to make sure that no one reading this ever falls prey to the teaching that if life is tough on you, it is because you don’t have enough faith, or you are a bad Christian or something like that. Also, I want to make sure you don’t believe that you can earn favors from God by being righteous, or saying the right words or having the right kind of faith.

I do want to say, however, that David became the great man he was because of faith. Sometimes things went very well for him and sometimes they didn’t. But how it was going on the outside was not as important to David as the quality of his relationship with the Lord. And because that relationship was more important to David than anything else, God was able to use him in amazing ways, and also to bless David without David thinking he had earned it.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to receive all of life as blessing, whether or not it looks that way outwardly? If we could do that, it wouldn’t matter much to us whether circumstances were good or bad. We would always be experiencing life as blessing. David was getting there.

In chapter 26, David is still in a time of outward difficulty. But we will quickly see that things are very good with his heart. Once more, the Ziphites betrayed David – the same people who almost got him killed in chapter 23. They knew where David was, and they told Saul to come and get him. As far as we know, Saul had left David alone since the incident when David spared his life in the cave. But the Ziphites basically tempted Saul to sin. Having betrayed David once, this group of people probably thought that if David were not killed, he would take retribution on them if he had the chance, so they may have been quite urgent and persuasive in trying to get Saul to start hunting David again.

David can hardly believe it, so he takes a few men on a reconnaissance mission to see if Saul really has come. One of them is Abishai. Abishai is the son of David’s sister Zeruiah, which made him David’s nephew. Since David was the youngest of ten, it is quite possible that he and Abishai are basically the same age, or even that Abishai is a little older. They might have spent a lot of time together as boys. At this point, they are both probably in their early or mid-twenties, in the prime of physical power and maybe a little inclined to try something crazy.

The two of them decide to sneak into the heart of Saul’s encampment at night. This is the desert, so the soldiers probably did not have tents. The picture seems to be that Saul chose his sleeping spot, and then the whole army arranged themselves around him, with his bodyguard closest to him and the rest around them in a rough circle. David and Abishai crept through the entire circle of sleeping men and came to Saul sleeping soundly, along with Abner, the chief of Saul’s bodyguard.

All this appears somewhat similar to chapter 24, but only superficially. Almost every detail is different. Saul doesn’t come alone into the cave where David and his men were waiting. Instead David creeps with only one companion into the middle of Saul’s camp. This time it wasn’t Saul almost finding David where he was hiding, it was David finding Saul where he was camped openly. Before, David was passive. This time he initiated the action.

I think that it is not coincidence that this happened shortly after David’s interactions with Nabal. In chapter 24, we have the record of how David was tested, in the cave with Saul, and he passed that test. But with Nabal, he failed. He fully intended to take matters into his own hands regarding Nabal, and was saved from sin only by the wisdom of Abigail. Now, once more, he gets the chance to take matters into his own hands, or trust the Lord.

Verse 12 says that the Lord put a deep sleep on Saul and the army, which made this whole incident possible. It is almost as if the Lord is giving David a chance to see if he really learned his lesson with Nabal. It isn’t just a test – obviously, God knew what was in David’s heart. But David may not have been sure of himself. He may have had times where he thought about the incident with Nabal, and condemned himself, and wished he had behaved differently. The Lord is giving him a second chance, a “do-over.”

Abishai hasn’t matured in that way at any rate. He asks permission to kill Saul. It would be all over. The good times could begin. The days of wandering homeless, despised by people around, in danger all the time, could all be ended by one swift spear thrust. As before, it was a powerful temptation. Who could blame David? In Saul’s mind, anyway, they were enemies. It would be an act of war. It wouldn’t even be David who struck the blow.

But David has learned his lesson thoroughly. He says:

10“As the LORD lives, the LORD will certainly strike him down: either his day will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. 11 However, because of the LORD, I will never lift my hand against the LORD’s anointed. Instead, take the spear and the water jug by his head, and let’s go.” (1Sam 26:10-11, HCSB)

He saw the battle with Goliath as the Lord’s fight. So he sees the struggle with Saul. It isn’t his, really – it is God’s business, and David trusts God to take care of it in His own time and in His own way.

As morning breaks, from a safe distance, David calls and awakens the camp. He shows them the spear and the water jug he has taken from Saul’s side. David is young and strong, and he has accomplished an amazing, bloodless feat of arms. So he teases Abner, Saul’s commander for a moment. I get the feeling he is rejoicing in what he and Abishai just did. But then, once again he respectfully confronts Saul with his wrongdoing. Like Abigail did with David, so David does with his king, Saul. He shows Saul he is wrong; he reminds him of true righteousness in God’s eyes – but he does it all with respect. You might say that David is submissive to the authority of Saul, but he is not subservient or a doormat.

At the end of the discussion, David shows where his trust is:

23 May the LORD repay every man for his righteousness and his loyalty. I wasn’t willing to lift my hand against the LORD’s anointed, even though the LORD handed you over to me today. 24 Just as I considered your life valuable today, so may the LORD consider my life valuable and rescue me from all trouble.” (1Sam 26:23-24, HCSB)

He doesn’t ask Saul to treat him the way he treated Saul. Instead, he declares that he trusts the Lord to treat him with righteousness and love.

Throughout this, Saul seemed to be full of remorse. But he was remorseful last time two, after David spared his life in the cave. David has learned something important from Saul: Remorse is not the same as repentance. Saul let his emotions rage through him uncontrolled. Sometimes he was full of murderous fury; sometimes he was full of regret and sorrow. But the regret and sorrow did not lead to true repentance for Saul – they were just feelings he had sometimes. So, even though Saul invites David to come back with him, David does not do it. Saul is in God’s hands, but David is wise enough not to trust him.

It’s another great story, and I love it just for the daring deeds and passion and trust in God. But what does it mean for us now? What does the Lord want to say to us through this passage today?

One of the things that catches my attention here is that David and Abishai accomplished a daring exploit, a great feat of war – yet without violence or bloodshed. If you are a young man, particularly, you may sometimes yearn to do something daring or great. Often it is easiest to imagine doing this in the context of some kind of violence – saving comrades during a battle, or saving your family from the bad guys. There is nothing wrong with the desire to do daring deeds, or with having a warrior-spirit. In fact, it is a good thing, used by god. By trusting the Lord, David allowed his warrior-spirit to be used and satisfied without committing violence.

Along with that, David shows that withholding violence takes more courage than doing something violent. With one violent act, his troubles could have over. It was much harder – it was a much greater deed – to leave Saul unharmed. I think we can all learn from that. Jesus told us to turn the other cheek. It takes a lot more courage to do that than to take matters into our hands, and protect ourselves. It takes courage not to reply with harsh words or gossip when someone hurts us. It takes courage to not repay hurt with hurt.

As we read the Old Testament especially, I think it is helpful to ask: “Where is Jesus in this text?” Remember, David is sometimes a “type of Christ.” What this means is that God used David at times to show the world what the real Messiah (Jesus) is like – to people who would never get the chance to know Jesus in their earthly life.

This passage does show us a little bit of what Jesus is like. Like David, Jesus is a mighty warrior, forever in the prime of life, full of bravery and wisdom; ultimately and absolutely victorious over his enemies.

David held back from harming Saul, who, without a doubt, deserved to be harmed by David. In the same way Jesus holds back the punishment that we all richly deserve. Jesus told us to love our enemies, to pay back evil with good. David did that very thing. Jesus forgave the people who were crucifying him, even as they did the deed.

Here’s something else that I think is very significant. David did not know at the time that the Lord was using him to show the world what Jesus was like. He didn’t realize how significant his actions were. But because he lived in trust and obedience, many people in his generation, and for a thousand years after, had some idea of what the Messiah was like.

We don’t always know when someone has a chance to see Jesus through us. We can’t always tell when the Lord is doing that. Very often the opportunity comes when we least feel like it. There was a huge temptation for David to act precisely opposite of how Jesus is. So in the same way, it may be in our toughest moments that God uses us to show Jesus to the world.

What is the Holy Spirit saying to you right now?

If I’m Dead to Sin, Can I sin all the time now?

LIVING IN REVERSE, PART 4. ROMANS 6:12-23

dead-alive

 

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Last time we considered the New Testament teaching that in Jesus we died to sin and to the law. Through this death, which is accomplished through the death of Jesus, we have been set free from sin and the law. (Romans 6:7,14,18; Romans 7:4,6) Last week I shared no less than one dozen scriptures that teach explicitly that in Christ we have died.

The picture Paul gives us at the beginning of Romans 7:2-3 is of marriage. When two people are married in the eyes of the law, they are married. It would be a sin to marry someone else at the same time. But if the husband dies, the laws regarding marriage no long apply. Because of the death, the law doesn’t apply any more. It would no longer be sinful or illegal for the woman to marry someone else. The law was made irrelevant by death.

In the same way, the power of sin to bring us condemnation through the law has been destroyed by the death of Jesus, and by our death which happened in Jesus, as we have trusted him. We can’t be condemned as sinners anymore, because as Paul writes:

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. (Rom 7:4, ESV)

Now, when you really get this, there is a natural question that arises. Does this mean I can sin all I want, because the law no longer applies to me? Now stick with me here. I am going to give you an answer that may surprise you, but you need to follow through the ENTIRE answer I am about to give.

Technically, the answer is, Yes, you can sin all you want. If you are in Jesus, your sins don’t “count” anymore. In the eyes of the law, you are dead, so the law cannot be used to condemn you for anything you do now.

Now, that is a shocking answer. It isn’t the whole story yet, and I want you to stick with me as I give some further explanation in a moment. But just pause here for a moment. Do you see how outrageous the grace of God is? He has made it so that if you simply continue to trust Him, you cannot fail. Even when you do fail, it isn’t counted as you anymore. That’s why we see all those passages in the New Testament saying that when we are in Christ we are New Creation, we are Holy, we are Blameless and so on.

You see it isn’t our job to work ourselves into a state of holiness. God has already put us into a state of holiness, in our spirits. Our only job is to keep believing that he has done this, and through that faith, He will continue to work the holiness deeper and deeper into our soul and body life.

I use the expression keep believing quite deliberately. It is a daily (sometimes hourly) habit of continuing to believe who Jesus is, what he has done for us, how he feels about us, and continuing to rest upon it. This is not a one shot deal. This is not a situation where you just say, “Well I got baptized, so I’m good now.” Or “Well, I got saved five years ago, so I’m good now.” This is a process of continually putting our trust in Jesus, day by day. That is what it means to be “in Jesus” and all these things are ours, only in Jesus. I’m not saying that you have to work hard and live the Christian life on your own strength in order to be in Jesus. But I am saying that to be in Jesus, you need to continually rest in Him with trust in what his Word says, and in what he has done for us.

Last week I spent some time talking about how what we believe profoundly shapes what we do. So the next part of the answer comes here. Technically, you can sin all you want, and it doesn’t count against you. But if you really believe that God has freed you from sin, that you have already been made holy, you will be far less inclined to sin than if you believe you are still fundamentally a sinner.

If you believe you are half sinner, and half saint, then it is only natural for you to go through life sinning half the time. If you believe that, and you sin less than half the time, I commend you for your great will power, though it is misguided. The bible does not say you are half sinner, half saint. It says that if you are in Jesus, then in the most essential part of your being, the part that doesn’t change, the part that already has a solid connection to eternity – your spirit – you are entirely holy. You are completely separated from sin and the law.

When you believe what the Bible says – that the essential you is already holy and is free from sin – you will sin less, not more, because action follows belief. If you find that you are sinning a lot, what you need is not to try harder to stop, but to believe more fully what God says about you.

Now, there is another thing that will eventually restrain our sinful actions. There is a movie from the 1990s called Groundhog Day. In it, a weather reporter named Phil gets trapped in an endlessly repeating day – February 2 1993, to be precise. Only Phil is trapped in this day. Every day, the other people he meets are living the day as if it is their first February 2, 1993. The only thing that carries over from day to day is Phil’s memory. Naturally, at first he is depressed. One night he is drowning his sorrows in drink, and he says out loud: “What if nothing you did mattered. What if you woke up every morning as if the previous day had never happened?”

One of the other drinkers in the bar said, “That would mean there would be no consequences. You could do anything you like.”

Phil catches on to this idea, and at first, he abuses the fact that there are no consequences for his actions. He gets drunk, commits crimes, and does many morally reprehensible things. After a while all that loses its luster, because he realizes there is no life there. So he tries to commit suicide. He kills himself dozens of times, but always wakes up the next morning at 6:00am on February 2, 1993.

But finally, truly knowing there are no consequences, he begins to live for love. Repeating this day endlessly with one of his co-workers, he falls in love with her. And knowing it doesn’t matter what he does, he finally chooses, because of love, to do what is good and right and noble. He devotes himself to literature and music. He tries as much as possible to help others. Every day he says the same boy from breaking his leg, and the same man from choking. Every day, he tries to save the life of the same old bum who dies on February 2, 1993. Day after day, he tries to bless the people that he is stuck with.

I suggest that you are really in Jesus, and you really know you are free from sin, you will discover quickly that there is no real life in sin, and the pleasure you get from it is false and always disappoints you. When you really know you are free from sin and law, you will find yourself more often drawn to the Lord and REAL life, than the shallow, brief and bitter pleasures of sin. And when we learn to love God, we find that living for love naturally moves us away from what would hurt our loved one, and toward things that are good and right and noble.

Here’s another analogy. I am married to Kari. We have a legal marriage license from the state of Illinois. Suppose we went to a marriage counselor and I said: “Kari committed to be my wife, ’till death do us part. We are legally married, and there is no part of the legal document that specifies what I must do, or what I may not do. So does that mean I can stay out until 3 AM every night and party all I want? Can I stop working, and let her provide all of our finances? Can I spend all our money however I want, without talking to her about it? Can I leave dirty dishes and smelly laundry all over the house?” I could go on, but you get the picture.

Marriage is not about a legal contract in which I fulfill my duties or else face the consequences. I could technically do all those things and remain legally married to Kari. But what kind of relationship is that? I don’t do those things (except leaving the occasional dirty dish) because I love Kari. Now there are times when either Kari or I do things that hurt each other. When that happens, we have to talk about it, and ask forgiveness, and give forgiveness, and heal the relationship. But we don’t say sorry because we have rules about saying sorry. I don’t clean up after myself (a lot of the time, anyway) because there is a rule that I have to. But I know it is helpful for our relationship if I do. I am motivated by love.

This is the picture the New Testament gives us of our relationship with God. Truly, if you are in Jesus Christ, sin is irrelevant. But what is relevant is your relationship with him, your love for him.

Paul describes it almost exactly this way. He uses the analogy of a woman who husband dies, and then she is free to marry someone else. Paul says:

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. (Rom 7:4, ESV)

We died to sin and to the law so that we could be raised into relationship.

If you are looking to find out how much sin you can get away with, then I question whether you actually are in relationship with God. I would say at the very least, you relationship with him is in very serious trouble. And, believe it or not, that is really the question of someone who is still trying to live by the law. You want a rule about how many rules you can break and still be OK. You aren’t really in relationship with God.

So, to go back to the sin question, since you are free from sin, dead to it, is there a problem if you sin? Well, is there a problem in your marriage if you cheat on your spouse? Of course there is. It isn’t a law problem, it is a problem that shows lack of belief in what God says, and lack of love for him. But we need to understand that it isn’t about performing correctly for God or reforming ourselves or making ourselves holy. It is about believing Him and loving him.

I don’t like it when I hurt Kari feelings. I hate the feeling when we are fighting and our relationship isn’t right. I feel the same way with the Lord. And the truth is this. If I say something hurtful to Kari, and I never say sorry and seek her forgiveness, it puts a barrier in our relationship. The more I hurt her and refuse to resolve the hurt I’ve done or acknowledge my mistake, the more distant our relationship will become. Eventually all the hurts and barriers and distance add up, and if we let it go, we might end up divorced. But you can’t divorced without signing papers. It can’t happen without you knowing about it and agreeing to it.

In the same way, if we continue to live in such a way as to hurt our relationship with God, we will become more and more distant from him. Eventually, we may be so distant that we get no benefit from our relationship with Him. The prodigal son left his father. The father still loved his son, and called him his son, but the son got no benefit from it. Even though he was the son of a loving, kind and generous father, he was living with pigs and eating pig food to survive. He might have died that way, and so, through his neglect of the relationship, never received anything more from his father.

Some of you reading this believe you can never lose your salvation. Some of you believe you can. Wherever you come down, the Bible is very clear that it is very serious thing to be distant from God. The bible exhorts us to continue to have a daily relationship with Him, through faith.

But once more, I want to emphasize that if you truly believe how outrageous God’s grace is, when you truly know that He really has freed you from sin, you will not be motivated to sin nearly as often as before. The more you believe, the less you injure that relationship with God, and the more quickly you will seek healing and resolution when you do hurt that relationship.

We don’t fight sin by trying be good with our own willpower. We don’t conquer temptation by gritting our teeth and getting over it. We start by believing that we are already holy, that in fact, we don’t have any relationship to sin any more. We live now in relationship to God, a relationship of faith that is based upon unconditional love, not rules.

Now, there is another question we need to address. If we are already holy, and already free from sin, why do we sin anymore at all? I apologize, but this message is getting long, and so I will answer that question next time.

1 Corinthians #14. A Way Out. 1 Cor 10:1-13


Download 1 Corinthians Part 14

Just as in 1 Corinthians chapters 1-4, Paul has a general subject in mind here, but he starts straying and covering all sorts of topics before he comes back to finish the discussion. The topic, begun in chapter 8, was about food sacrificed to idols. But he tells us in that chapter that the point is not what you are free to do, but how your actions affect the consciences of others. In chapter nine, he spent a great deal of time detailing his own rights and freedoms, and pointing out that he gave those up for the Corinthians.

In chapter 10, he warns the Corinthians that they are not above falling. He uses the Israelites as an example. In verse 11, he says:

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction…

This isn’t the main point, but it is an important one. He says something much like it in Romans also:

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)

The reason I point this out is that sometimes Christians act as if the Old Testament is no longer relevant to us any more. But the New Testament itself teaches that the Old Testament offers us instruction and encouragement. It applies to us – certainly in a different way than it applied to the Israelites who lived before Jesus, but still, it is there for our instruction, encouragement and benefit. Paul, looking at the Old Testament, sees its fulfillment in Jesus, and its application for present followers of Jesus.

So he uses an Old Testament example for the Corinthians. The Corinthians were baptized into Jesus Christ. They had faith in Him. They regularly received the Lord’s Supper. But, says Paul, that does not automatically mean that they will be in heaven, if they don’t persist in these things. He says that the ancient Israelites, had their own baptism-like experience. They had their own experience of the Lord’s Supper, partaking of food and drink that were not only physical, but spiritual (v.3-4). Paul even says that Jesus Christ was present with them through the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, just as Jesus is present with us through the Holy Spirit.

I have seen two common attitudes among Christians like the attitude that Paul warns about. In the Lutheran and Catholic traditions, many people have the attitude that if they simply get baptized as babies, get confirmed as teenagers, and take communion once or twice a year, they automatically go to heaven. They feel that if they just do those things, they can live the rest of their lives however they want, and it will have no eternal consequences.

Many Baptists and other evangelicals have exactly the same attitude, only in a different way. They laugh at the idea of putting their faith in sacraments. But instead, they put their faith in a different ceremony, that of “getting saved.” They believe if that at one single point in their life, they respond to an altar call, walk down to the front of the church and say that they believe, then they “got saved.” Church of Christ people would add that they have to get baptized too. But the attitude is that if they simply do that once, they can go live the rest of their lives however they want, and it will have no eternal consequences.

The result of all this is that we have people all over the country who never go to church, never talk to God, never read their bibles, live in all different kinds of moral sin, give their lives to alcohol and drugs, or to the pursuit of money, and yet believe that when they die, they’ll be in heaven with a Lord they have never known or cared about. But Paul says:

Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence. (1 Cor 10:12, the Message).

Now, there is great debate between Christians about a related topic. Some Christians feel that if you are truly saved, you can never lose your salvation, no matter what. They point to several verses like Romans 8:38-39

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Others point to this passage, and other passages like Hebrews 6:4-8, which contain strong warnings about falling away, and even to people like Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom Paul says rejected the faith and so destroyed themselves spiritually (1 Timothy 1:20).

I like to solve the dilemma by saying this: First, there are great many promises to us so that we can rest assured, knowing that the power and grace of Jesus holds us and will keep us and bring us safely to eternal life with Him. Second, a life of true faith will show itself by growing closer to God and moving away from sin and worldly ambitions (even if the movement is slow).

The point Paul is making today is the second one. If you have true faith, you won’t neglect your relationship with God. If you think that you can more or less ignore God for the rest of your life and still have eternal life, then you are in desperate spiritual and eternal danger.

But Paul also has a word of comfort. He says:

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. (1 Cor 10:13, New Living Translation)

In other words, though the possibility of spiritual danger is very real, God does not simply leave you to figure it out yourself. He doesn’t abandon you to stand or fall on your own – he is there to help in the middle of your temptations and trials. The word for temptation here means to “trap” or to “test.” This word is for you if you are tempted to sin, or if you feel caught, or if you feel your faith is being tested in some way.

Now, I want to be honest with you: there were times in my life when I wasn’t sure that this was true. For a long time I struggled with a sin that I always seemed to give in to. If I was tempted in that way, I was going to sin. I wondered where my ‘way out’ was. Slowly, over the years, I’ve learned two things about the “way out” listed here.

I had areas of my life where I was holding on to hurt and not forgiving others. I had closed off parts of my heart from God, and that naturally opened them up to the devil. I was defeated by that particular temptation, because I let Satan live in a little corner of my heart where I wasn’t letting God come in. In other words, God couldn’t give me a way out, because I closed part of me off from him. I needed help and prayer from other believers to discover this and to walk through the process of dealing with it. Once I did that, I was till tempted to sin in the same way, and yet I found that I could now resist that temptation.

If you are dealing with a particular sin in which you fail again and again in the same way, I encourage you to talk to me or another mature Christian about it, and seek the wisdom and prayers of others.

There is another aspect about this way of escape from temptation. You must believe that the Holy Spirit really does offer it, and that means you need to keep looking until you find it.

I grew up in Papua New Guinea. We always had plenty of food available to us, but not nearly the variety of food there is in the United States. We could always find meat and bread. There was always rice. Fresh milk was never available. Other things, like crackers or potato chips or breakfast cereal only showed up occasionally. If we saw Froot Loops or macaroni and cheese in the store, we knew a ship had recently come in to town. We also knew that within a few days, all boxes would be gone, and we probably wouldn’t see that kind of food again for a year or more.

One year we returned to the US for a few months of furlough. I went to an American grocery store with my Grandfather. We got various items, and then we started looking for oyster crackers. We went to the aisle where Grandpa normally found them. They weren’t there. Grandpa was puzzled, and we looked very intently without finding them.

“Grandpa,” I said after a while, “they’re probably just out of them.”

Grandpa didn’t really know any more about New Guinean grocery stores than I knew about American ones. He stared at me like I was an alien. “They’re not out of them” he said. He was vastly amused at my idea that there would be no oyster crackers.

If it had been me, I would have gone home without oyster crackers, because I did not believe they were there. However, to my great surprise, we eventually found them, and my grandpa laughed at my consternation all the way home.

In order to find the way of escape promised by the Holy Spirit here, you must believe that it really exists, and you must keep searching, believing you will find it. If you don’t believe it is there, you might be like me with the oyster crackers – you’ll look around a little, and then give up. But my Grandpa found what he needed because he believed it was there, and kept searching until he had obtained it.

That needs to be our attitude when we face temptations and trials and tests of any kind. The way is there. God has promised it. Don’t stop, don’t give up until you have made use of it to find relief from temptation and trial.